Friday, December 23, 2022

Twelve Rounds with Kant (part thirteen)

Well, here we are—about to take a look at the second division of Kant's Critique of the Power of Judgement, the Critique of Teleological Judgement. When I say "let's take a look at," I mean "let me reread, take notes, and summarize it for myself because a Kant critique makes Ulysses seem like light reading." After this there will be one more Kantpost where I'll try and figure out whether the third critique really contains kernels of valuable wisdom, of if the heautonomy of the faculty of judgement is really the friends we make along the way. 

Let's begin with a few excerpts of some things Kant says in this section that must strike the twenty-first century reader as embarrassingly outmoded. Might as well it out of the way now.

Nothing in it [an organism] is vain, purposeless, or to be ascribed to a blind mechanism of nature.

My tailbone and appendix say otherwise, chum. I'd include my wisdom teeth, but I had them pulled out of my head because they'd have deformed the rest of my teeth if they'd been left in. Lost track of 'em afterwards. Pretty sure they're blocking me on the Face Book.

It is well known that the anatomists of of plants and animals, in order to investigate their structure and to understand for what reason and to what end they have been given such a disposition and combination of parts and precisely this internal form, assume as indispensably necessary the maxim that nothing in such a creature is in vain, and likewise adopt it as the fundamental principle of the general doctrine of nature that nothing happens by chance.

The processes of natural selection and evolution are catalyzed precisely "by chance." The hatching of a bird with a somewhat unusually shaped beak that turns out to be better suited to the selective pressures of its environment than its nestmates' occurs precisely by chance. Chemistry, whose laws govern the behavior of nucleotides, is a science of probabilities. 

[I]t is quite certain that we can never adequately come to know the organized beings [organisms] and their internal possibility in accordance with merely mechanical principles of nature, let alone explain them; and indeed this is so certain that we can boldly say that it would be absurd...to hope there may yet arise a Newton who could make comprehensible even the generation of a blade of grass that no intention has ordered...

You mean to tell me the smartest boy in K√∂nigsberg didn't foresee genome sequencing? Well then, how smart could he have really been? Dummkopf!

Strictly speaking, the organization of nature is...not analogous with any causality that we know.

ever hear of mitosis lolol chromatids from the window to da wall lol

But if one leaves this aside and looks only to the use that other natural beings make of [grass], then one abandons the contemplation of its internal organization and looks only at its external purposive relations, where the grass is necessary to the livestock, just as the latter is necessary to the human being as the means for his existence; yet one does not see why it is necessary that human beings exist (a question which, if one thinks about the New Hollanders or the Fuegians, might not be so easy to answer)....

Immanuel, you racist prick.

There. Now that we can set all that aside...

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Twelve Rounds with Kant (part twelve)

In some ways the Critique of the Power of Judgement resists synopsis. The Critique of Pure Reason and Critique of Practical Reason each possesses a linear structure wherein an elaborate argument is built up from its foundations and followed to the pinnacle of its conclusion, whether Kant intends to construct and justify a bounded but flexible epistemological system (the first critique) or to provide an annex in which that system can house a moral objectivism, assert the logical and practical necessity of doing so, and explore what that entails (the second critique). The third critique, on the other hand, often seems tangential to itself.

Let's say Kant has a greater and a lesser ambition for the Critique of the Power of Judgment. On a more modest level, Kant wants only to examine the faculty of judgement in and of itself, and see if it contains an a priori guiding principle like the other two "higher" cognitive faculties (the understanding and reason). If that's the case, he pins that principle (the perception of purposiveness) down in the Introduction, and having established it as conclusively settled, proceeds to spend the next three hundred pages ruminating on its ramifications, with detours into matters of fine art and biology. Any outline of the procedure would be as scattershot as the book itself, and academic wonks have noticed that Kant doesn't actually ground many of his remarks on beauty and organic forms upon the intricacies of our judging faculty. (See here, sixth paragraph.)

More daringly, Kant also purposes to span the divide between the remote continents of natural and moral philosophy. That's a hell of a hook (especially if you're already familiar with the organization of the Kantian system), and it had me eagerly turning the pages as soon as Kant alluded to the possibility in the Introduction. Imagine my surprise when our dear philosopher presently embarked on a deep dive into judgements of taste and art.

Not that this stuff is altogether irrelevant to Kant's stated purpose, and not that it wasn't tremendously influential in its time—it cannot be emphasized enough that the Critique of the Power of Judgement inaugurated the definitional shift of the word "aesthetic" toward its modern usage—but it's possible to finish the Introduction, skip the Critique of Aesthetic Judgement altogether, and begin reading the Critique of Teleological Judgement and not find your understanding of it much impaired. We simply can't do this with the Critique of Pure Reason: if the first-time reader leapt ahead to the Transcendental Dialectic after reaching the end of the Transcendental Aesthetic, he'd find himself hopelessly lost.

Giving an overview of the Critique of the Power of Judgement with regard to its more grandiose intention without setting aside whole swaths of the book as extraneous is a daunting prospect. People who've made careers for themselves reading and writing about Kant have evidently taxed themselves trying to discern an internal consistency within the text as a whole. As an amateur, I find myself at something of a loss.

I feel that the most sensible and expedient way of writing about the third critique would be to look separately at its aesthetic and teleological sections, paying attention to the areas where the concerns of the first and second critiques overlap. I should say again, for anyone who's actually reading this, that I'm writing this as a summary for my own benefit (internalizing the text by compelling myself to parse and restate parts of it), during which I'll pretend that I'm explaining to a curious roommate what I've been reading lately.